After getting several rejection letters from festival organizers, Tony Lau was beginning to second guess his ability as a filmmaker.
“As an artist, you work so hard to make a film and you want it to have an audience,” said Lau, a sessional instructor in Communications, Media and Film and director of a short documentary called Left Behind Woman. “You don’t just want your friends and family watching it. You want to bring awareness to your topic.”
Lau’s wish for an audience came true when he received a letter of acceptance from the Reel Asian Film Festival, which runs November 8 to 13 in Toronto and November 18 to 19 in Richmond Hill. The event is Canada’s largest Asian film festival and includes works by artists from around the world, so Lau is stoked about getting his first letter of acceptance.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s one of the best Asian film festivals in North America.”
Shot on location in northeastern China in 2010, Left Behind Woman tells the story of mothers in rural communities left to tend the farm and manage all the domestic duties while their husbands go to larger, far-off industrial centres for extended stays to seek higher wage jobs.
“China is becoming so industrial,” said Lau, who spent four months there working on the film. “Not that many people want to farm anymore, but it’s a big country and they need to feed people. But people have the mindset that it’s always better on the other side. It’s very sad.”
Lau knows the subject matter intimately from personal experience. His own family moved to Canada from Hong Kong 20 years ago when he was 11. They originally went to Toronto, but came to Windsor after two weeks. Then his father returned home while his mother was left to raise Lau and his siblings. His mother has since returned home, but he remembers how difficult it was for her.
Lau eventually went to Kennedy Collegiate and then came to the University of Windsor to study communications. In his fourth year, he met professor Min Bae – who is the director of photography on his new film – and caught the bug for cinema when he took his advanced filmmaking class.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “I worked with Min every weekend.”
He graduated in 2004, but didn’t feel ready to be a filmmaker yet, so he decided to pursue a master’s degree in communications and social justice. The result of that degree was a film called Myth of Dreams, which focused on issues of immigration in his home country. He completed the film in 2008, received his degree in 2009, went to complete a master’s of fine arts degree at York University and then came back to Windsor to teach last year.
Besides teaching, he spends time working in Studio 5, the production space that Bae and his colleagues took over in what used to be a Catholic elementary school at the corner of Detroit and Donnelly streets. His next project will be an observational documentary about Muay Thai, an Asian form of kick boxing, focusing specifically on fighters who are trained in the sport from childhood. He plans to go to Thailand next April to begin pre-production on the film.